If you want to work for John C. Miller, then you’d best be prepared to embrace the “Bueno way.”
As president and CEO of Taco Bueno Restaurants LP, Miller knows how he wants things to be run and the experience his customers should have, so he refuses to settle for less than the highest standards, which he is constantly looking to improve upon.
“We celebrate the little victories, but then we set new goals that have some stretch in them every year,” he says. “No one should ever rest or be content in their latest achievement because the competition isn’t going to rest.”
To stay ahead of the competition at the $183 million restaurant chain, which has more than 180 locations, he continuously measures progress and gets feedback from his customers so he knows what he’s doing right and what he needs to change.
Smart Business spoke with Miller about how he knows what to do next.Establish good metrics. If you don’t have ways to measure, you don’t know how to assess what to do next in the business. You’d have to be lucky, or you’d be on your way to a short life.
What adds value to the organization? There’s all sorts of things you measure, but the measures have to be anchored in why any of those matter. Quite simply, what you value is what the customer values.
Nothing is sacred except that the guest returns. They have a lot of competitive choices. Those measures are against what customers say matter, then what our shareholders say matter, and then what our employees say matter. If you think of those as a wheel that rolls nicely down the street when they’re balanced, it works pretty well, but if they’re out of balance, the company doesn’t work well.Talk to customers. Sam Walton said it best if you don’t know what to do next, if there’s not real clarity around where you’re doing well and where your performance is slight, then go ask your customer.
Know your customers. You can get it with surveys, from employee opinion, but there’s nothing as valuable as face time with real customers that you can synthesize.
Listen to those consumers on what they’d like to see. You have to constantly ask. Sometimes, the consumer doesn’t know how to tell you you have to twist their arms. If you ask a straight-up question like, ‘What can I add to the menu?’ sometimes they can’t answer. If you probe a little deeper, you find out.
I interview a lot of guests and employees. If there’s an enthusiastic response and endorsement, I’ll probe more, trying to get to the bottom of why they were delighted.
If they weren’t delighted, ‘What would have made you happy? What kept you from being excited about the business?’ You get to the heart of what the consumer is looking for.Listen better, then assess. If you’re listening and then feel like, ‘Well, that’s not how we do it. I wish more people liked it the way we did it,’ then you’re not really listening. If you’re really listening, you’re listening for what you can take action on to improve your business.
Consumers are not static. They’re constantly changing based on what’s available to them, but it takes a commitment to be engaged with your consumers.
Assess where you’re at against what customers say matter, and give yourself an honest assessment with your team every year.
What are your strengths against what consumers say? Protect those. What are your weaknesses? Improve those. What are your opportunities things you aren’t doing that customers would like to see you do? Add those.Hire the right people. You don’t get to try people out for a year. How you staff is a critical part of putting together a successful organization that has continuity and can work together as a team.
We’re not in a hurry to fill every spot. We’d rather do it right.
In our reference checking, we ask some pointed questions about accountability, teamwork, customer focus, other people focus, employee focus. There are ways we ask that, interestingly enough, even people who mean to endorse their candidate, they sometimes pause over those questions, and that can be telling at times.
What most people do is assign that to a junior HR person who goes through a list would you rehire them, can you recommend them, would you say this person has integrity? The problem with those questions is, it’s too easy to say, ‘Yes, no, yes, they’re fine, they’re great,’ and you don’t get into it.
So the questions are more open-ended and designed to have conversation not yes-no answers.Strengthen your hiring process. If you’re not careful with the selection process, it’s difficult to maintain the environment you want. We have a verification process that requires some redundancy, so the store manager would not add a staff manager without an assistant manager or district manager’s involvement.
When you add a second layer of verification, it adds another layer of strength and credibility to the process. That causes people to slow down. If the system is really strong, it makes it easier for a manager to make a strong decision.
By having a set of high standards that people have to go by, the system becomes self-policing and self-fulfilling.
HOW TO REACH: Taco Bueno Restaurants LP, (972) 919-4800 or www.tacobueno.com